The CFI held that there is no presumption that agreements between pharmaceutical companies and wholesalers intending to limit parallel trade have as their object the restriction of competition. The CFI recognises that the market for medicines is not one of free play of supply and demand. Lower prices may not necessarily be passed on to consumers: they may benefit only those “vectors of artificial competition”. The CFI went on to hold after examining the context that parallel trade permits a limited but real reduction in the prices of medicines so that the conditions were anti-competitive in effect. Exemption may be available, however, on the basis that the conditions contributed to innovation, an issue which the Commission had not satisfactorily examined.
The CFI’s ruling can be seen as part of the “new approach” taken by Luxembourg to pharmaceutical cases which the European Commission will have to adopt. Advocate-General Jacobs in his Opinion in Syfait, in part echoing the Court of First Instance in Bayer (Adalat), widened the scope for a differentiated approach to be taken to restrictions on parallel imports in the pharmaceutical industry. Where it can be shown that the endconsumer of medicines is not deprived of concrete benefits of parallel trade in the form of cheaper pharmaceuticals, restrictions on parallel trade may be in line with EC competition law; and arguments for exemption should be examined in detail, and may succeed.